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How to create a civic innovation contest


Peter Corbett, founder of iStrategyLabs, recently released a step-by-step guide on how to create a civic application development competition, to harness the potential of citizens to develop apps based on Open Government data.

The methods outlined in the guide can apply to local, state, and federal government, as well as non-profit and for-profit entities.

Create an Apps for Democracy – Open Government Data Meets Citizen Innovation

The guide is based on the successful Apps for Democracy competitions held over the past few years in Washington DC. The document defines 9 core components, and outlines a checklist of tasks to complete for each step of the framework.

Apps for Democracy - Core components

The guide provides details of how to structure each component of the framework. This includes expected time-lines, stakeholders to involve, technology requirements and how to market the competition. As such, it provides a useful resource for others in helping to develop similar competitions.

The Apps for Democracy model has already been successfully utilised by other cities and countries for their own Open innovation contests. Competitions such as NYC Big Apps, Mashup Australia, Apps for America and INCA have all incorporated aspects of the Apps for Democracy initiative, as a means of engaging citizen developers to create apps based on Open government data.

Indeed, the recent Online Engagement review for Australia’s Government 2.0 Taskforce recommended:

Employ Apps for Democracy “Community Edition” model: solicit application ideas before the contest, judge submissions based on responsiveness to these ideas, and provide a development path through which the best entries can be integrated with government operations.

City Camp

Peter presented the guide at this weekend’s CityCamp, where he explained the background to the Apps for Democracy contest and the cost savings and innovations it produced.

Innovation prize best practice

A competition/prize is a familiar and easily understood concept that has a long history of inspiring beneficial change. Prizes, as offered in the Apps for Democracy contest, are primarily centered on recognizing excellence in the area of innovation. The prizes are used to attract innovators and recognize that – as Vivek Kundra (Federal CIO) says “Government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas”.

McKinsey note how the “most successful prize competitions place an equal emphasis on other elements, such as the broader change strategy, the competition itself, and post-award activities designed to enhance the impact of the prize.”

The guide expands on these points including the importance of collaboration/feedback before the competition closes:

iStrategyLabs has now screened 60+ applications submitted to our own contests, and another 45 during our involvement as a judge of the Apps for America contest. Upon review, we typically provide entrants with feedback so they can further iterate on their submission if the contest deadline has yet to elapse. We’ve found that this ensures a higher quality of applications, which better meet the needs of the city and citizen. Constructive feedback also gives technology developers a greater chance of winning an award.

This adheres to McKinsey’s research on best practice for Innovation prizes:

Much as prize sponsors can exploit the power of competition to drive innovation, they should also recognize the benefits of collaboration. A great deal of research suggests that collaboration can promote innovation substantially and some prizes actively encourage it. Changemakers, for example, encourages publication of submissions during the competition, generating conversations that often inspire participants to improve their entries before the competion closes.

The Apps for Democracy Community edition included the provision of a grant as part of the prize:

OCTO will have the option to award a Community Grant administered by iStrategyLabs for a total of $14,000 over a 9 month period for further development and support of the winning application.

Again, this adheres to McKinsey’s best practice on post-prize activities:

Finally, much of the impact of a prize occurs after it is awarded. Prize sponsors who devote significant effort to post-prize activities consistently impressed us. Sponsors, for instance, can make their prizes part of a broader change strategy that also includes grants, contracts, or infrastructure investments to help institutionalize benefits or scale up innovations.

By sharing his experiences Peter Corbett has provided a valuable insight into how Innovation competitions can be constructed. The guide’s recommendations adhere to best practice in the area of Innovation prizes, and thus it should be recognized as an important tool for developing Open innovation competitions.

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